Reviewed by: Trystan MacDonald
“It feels so good to be alive!”
Those words were yelled at the top of Nergal’s lungs about three years ago at the Opera House in Toronto. That statement was met with thunderous applause by the fans and myself; overjoyed at the fact that we weren’t going to lose another legend in heavy metal, especially to leukemia.
Six weeks ago I survived a violent assault where I was bludgeoned over the head with a baseball bat and had a knife held to my throat as the vandals looted my apartment. Needless to say, the two scenarios have nothing in common with one another, nor do I invite comparison between them by mentioning it. I simply mention the event for you to better understand my mindset while writing this review, and to confirm Nergal’s statement above; it feels pretty fucking good to be alive.
Arriving to a packed venue at the Phoenix Concert Hall Tuesday night, a sense of safety, similar to what you experience when coming home, immediately resonated with me as I viewed a legion of fans adorned with the colors of Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse. This isn’t a particularly rare sight at shows, but the concentration of band shirts for those two bands was particularly notable. The stage was adorned with various occult symbols, particularly Behemoth’s newest banner, The Flame of Enlightenment (also known as the Red King, taken from a seventeenth century alchemy book), that was held up to the rafters in the backdrop, as well as adorning Nergal’s microphone stand, but accompanied by two metal cobra’s on either side.
The crowd roared with approval as the lights dimmed, signaling the beginning of the spectacle they had been eagerly awaiting, a single pillar of bright white light illuminated the center of the stage, the mic stand with its visceral symbol the only thing to stand against such light, dominate in its silhouette. Immediately behind it was Nergal on his knees paying homage to such a symbol as the intro recording to “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” played. It was quite the sight; there was something haunting to it. Within moments, however, Nergal was on his feet and the band exploded with a fury, a fury that was immediately matched by the fans as the floor manifested into a violent mosh pit and the silhouette of legs, from people inverted at their attempts to crowd surf, sprouted from the heads of unsuspecting onlookers, too busy chanting “Behemoth!” The opening song would end the same way it began, with a pillar of light adorning the sigil center stage, the rhythm guitarist, Seth, and bassist, Orion, standing in it, Nergal having receded into darkness. The pillar of light would fade, only to explode and bathe the audience in red light as the opening riff to “Conquer all” roared through the speakers. Immediately, the energy in the crowd doubled as unified chants sounded simultaneously with Inferno’s symbols, the pit grew with additional bodies, and crowd surfers offered themselves up to the waiting arms of security on the other side of the barricade.
Transitioning into “Ben Sahar,” another notable single from the band’s critically acclaimed release The Satanist, tempered the energy of the crowd, particularly the pit, but in no way extinguished it. What would follow next? Anything would surely be met with approval from the fans, but for me, I was particularly restless. For weeks my constant introspection and philosophizing about my continued mortality, whether it was mere luck, or will from the divine, had resulted in a continuous presence of negative energy. Energy that I tried desperately to treat therapeutically the only way I knew how, the mosh pit. While the pit had proved to be just as intense as I thought it would be, it was still missing the sense of power and chaos that is ultimately associated with Behemoth.
“Apo pantos kakodaimonos!”
Yup. That’ll do. The opening line to “Decade of Therion” would unleash absolute hell on the floor, as every die-hard behemoth fan slammed into one another, worshipping the devastating nature of such a song. Coincidently, the line loosely translates into “Away every evil spirit,” and was originally written by Aleister Crowley for a banishing ritual called The Star Ruby. All of this I discovered after the show and looking back on it – whether this is wishful thinking brought about in the wake of a traumatic event, or in fact an invocation of the divine – the mantra chanted by everyone in the audience, and the pit that it conjured, certainly seemed to banish the negative energy that had been plaguing my mind. It was in that moment, that a certain revelation befell me as I truly witnessed the power of such a band, and heavy metal in general. Behemoth is power, all the great metal bands you listen too exude a sense of power, and it’s that sense of power that we crave and cling too in a world where we are constantly challenged by adversaries at every corner. Nergal and Behemoth understand this, and that knowledge is reflected in the intimidating and powerful energy of their music. It’s a shame that the Catholic Church in Poland consider this manifestation of music blasphemous, but then again maybe they are simply afraid that youth like me will turn to entitles like Behemoth for salvation, instead of religion.
The rest of Behemoth’s set would ride this wave of compelling strength transitioning between notable singles from their collection of work (Messe Noire, Ov Fire and the Void, At the Left Hand ov God, Slaves Shall Serve, Chant for Eschaton 2000). “At the Left Hand ov God” had a rather spectacular finish with the drummer Inferno, drumming simultaneously with someone I can only assume to be the drum tech – my apologies to the mysterious drummer if this is incorrect- creating the powerful tribal beat that continues long after the guitars have stopped. The band would take a short break following “Chant for Eshaton 2000”, before returning to the stage at the behest of fans for an encore. Donning their horned masks they would finish their hour long set with “O Father O Satan O Sun.”
Oh yeah…Cannibal Corpse played as well.
I jest of course, but I’ve always found it difficult to relate to the godfathers of extreme death metal and their vivid descriptions of the various forms of rape and murder that can be committed with the most painful of instruments such as meat hooks. Then again, that’s never been their purpose. They write songs that stretch the boundaries of freedom of expression and do everything in their power to offend those that consider themselves to have ‘wholesome values,’ while people like me and everyone around me bang their heads and cut loose to some of the most devastating riffs and progressions you can bang your head to.
Starting their set with “Scourge of Iron” the pit again remerged with a heightened sense of aggression as Corpsegrinder took to center stage and wind milled his hair violently. Honestly, of all the metal bands I’ve seen perform no one can spin their head as fast or as fierce as, Corpsegrinder. A fact that I think the lead singer is rather proud of as he constantly did it throughout the concert with relative ease. So much so, that I ponder if Corpsegrinder’s neck was always that thick, or the muscles have simply developed to that impressive size over the last two decades of head banging.
Following “Scourge of Iron” would be another track from Torture, “Demented Aggression”, with the speed of the guitars pushing the crowd and the pit to participate more, inspired by the brutal rhythms. Following the third song “Evisceration Plague” the audience was treated to the most notable single off the band’s bestselling record, The Bleeding, “Stripped, Raped and Strangled”; a song usually saved towards the end of their shows. Roars of approval and cheers of excitement rose from the crowd the moment the chugging guitar riff, synonymous with the brutal tune, began; and again the pit became a brutal – but awesome – place to be.
Following such an incredible opening, Corpsegrinder spoke to the loyal Toronto crowd and promoted the band’s newest album, The Skeletal Domain, before tearing into three songs from the record (Kill or Become, Sadistic Embodiment, and Icepick Lobotomy.) Following that was “The Wretched Spawn” a track that all Cannibal Corpse fans are all too familiar with and was met with deserved enthusiasm. The intensity of the crowd never dissipated once during the entire show, if anything it continued to grow, reaching its apex for the final song of the night, “Hammer Smashed Face.”
As February winds down, it’s almost impossible to think of any concert this year that can remotely come close to matching the raw, primal energy that manifested last Tuesday. Such a spectacle is impossible to replicate, allowing me to say, with a modicum of confidence, that if you missed this show, you most certainly, without a doubt, missed the heaviest concert in Toronto for 2015.